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Thursday, January 2,2014

A week later, still no power

by Lawrence Cosentino
The big freeze of 2013 began with a cannonade of falling limbs and orange flashes. A softer music filled the streets the following Saturday, as bits of melting ice tinkled from tree limbs to the ground. Power was back in many neighborhoods, but many single houses and pockets of houses were still out.

At about 3 p.m., Tim Terry took advantage of the slight thaw to check in on his house at 1227 Climax St., at the east edge of a patch of about a dozen houses that were still in the cold. He was sure his short stretch of Climax would be the last to get power back.

“They’re fixing the power on the main streets,” Terry said, pointing to Holmes Road a block away. “Their power went on all along there today. They’re going to neglect us every kind of way.”

Terry was staying with relatives, but he checked the house a few times a day for signs of break-ins.

“I’m a survivor,” he said. “I can go to the North Pole and make it happen, but my sister, Natalie, can’t take it. She’s 70 years old and needs a machine to breathe.”

His sister was staying with a niece, but he was still worried about her. Her breathing device was hooked up at the niece’s house, but every day away from her home medical alert system was a risk.

The streets and yards along Climax and Malcolm X Street, a block north, were strewn with downed wires and splintered branches. There were no signs of BWL trucks.

“I’ve been driving all over and I didn’t see any trucks nowhere,” Terry said. “Are they on vacation?” But private contractors were out in force. Dodging a 60-foot mass of tree brush, two trucks almost ran into each other on icy Malcolm X Street. One crew was fixing a power stack that that ripped away from a house. Across the street, another crew hooked up a generator for a homeowner who was at the hospital with a sick child.

Holding an icepack to her jaw — she had just been to the dentist — Amber Esser of Home Pros ran a cord through the plastic sheeting covering an unfinished porch on the north side of Climax. She and her father, Albert, were almost finished rehabbing the house and had started on the porch when the storm hit.

Albert Esser said the power had only just come back to his own home in Mason that day.

“It’s shocking that we’ve been out of power seven days,” Esser said. “It’s just unheard of. It’s Amish.”

He watched the generator as it shuddered to life.

“It costs 20 dollars a day to run these things,” Albert said. “Low-income people can’t afford that, or eating out every day.”

About a mile west, another pocket of about a dozen houses were still without power, centering on Alsdorf Street near Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Some had generators; others stayed elsewhere.

Garrett Clinard didn’t want to leave his Alsdorf Street house for fear the pipes would burst. He had an epiphany while adjusting the fierce heat blowing from the dashboard of his Dodge Caravan.

He bought two lengths of duct with rectangular footboxes from Home Depot and taped them together. He fitted one footbox to his dashboard and taped the other to the side window of his house, just above the couch where he slept. The unholy marriage of automobile and domicile kept the heat at 45 degrees.

Across the street, Clinard’s neighbor, Cindy Andress, was sticking it out with a generator. While fiddling with his ducts, Clinard spotted Andress and walked over.

“What have you heard?” Andress shouted over the generator. “They haven’t scheduled the lines for repair,” Clinard told her.

“What do you mean, they haven’t scheduled?” she cried. She looked at the ground.

“The anxiety level is so high,” she said.

“We had no Christmas. We just sat here and didn’t want to do nothing. You can’t spend extra money. It’s a nightmare.”

The frustration was extra sharp Saturday as people without power watched their neighbors resume life as usual. Two blocks east from Clinard and Andress on Alsdorf, Alice and Curtis Wilson and their son Stephen were unpacking their van after spending the week in Cheboygan with her mother.

“We lived through an ice storm 20 times worse than this in Kentucky in 2009,” She said. “Five or six inches thick. The whole state was out of power.” They shlepped several bags of clothes, food, toilet paper and a two-liter jug of A&W Root Beer into the house and settled in. A block east, the basso chorus of generators went on humming.

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